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Ghost tales linger, even 100 years after Flagler’s death

Monday is the centennial of the death of South Florida pioneer Henry Flagler. Other sections of The Post have been, or will be, doing special reports on the anniversary. We thought we’d have some fun with the story of Flagler’s ghost.

First, this: “There are no ghosts, there never have been ghosts, and there never will be ghosts at Whitehall,” said John Blades, executive director of the Flagler Museum, in the Halloween 2007 Post Time column.

In 1974, John Roth, a night watchman at Whitehall, Flagler’s former mansion, had said he saw the man “just as plain as daylight,” in a hallway.

“He was just standing there, wearing a dark suit and tie,” Roth said at the time. “I had a good look and then he vanished.”

Also, silver settings reportedly moved from a top shelf to a bottom one inside a locked cabinet. A ceiling lamp and the top to an urn crashed to the floor and plates inexplicably broke.

And another watchman, since retired, said he saw Flagler’s wife, Mary Lily, many times on an upstairs porch.

Roth later allowed as how he’d seen Flagler only once, when he awoke from a nap at about 3:30 a.m.

Finally, retired director Grant Bedford, blaming the sightings on overactive imaginations, said he’d give $1,000 to anyone who could show him a ghost. But, Roth argued , “I can’t make him appear any time I feel like it.”

Bedford said if Flagler’s spirit had made an appearance, it would not have been in the 1970s, when the estate had become a museum, but in the 1960s, when his former mansion was a hotel and Flagler’s belongings were stuffed away in attics. “It would have infuriated him,” Bedford said.


Henry and Mary Lily Flagler around 1910 (Photo courtesy the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

Call to readers: After our April 25 column on the World War II-era Wert’s restaurant in Palm Beach, longtime resident, and sometime Post Time contributor, Wayne Miner of Belle Glade wrote to ask about two other institutions. The first, called “Terry’s,” was in Glen Ridge, the tiny community south of Palm Beach International Airport, which Miner believes permitted the place to be one of the few drinking holes in Palm Beach County to be open on Sunday mornings.

The other was “Al’s,” an oasis out at 20 Mile Bend, the spot about halfway from the coast to Belle Glade. Jeff Barwick, who grew up in Pahokee and headed Pahokee’s and Clewiston’s Chamber of Commerce and curated at the Clewiston museum, recalls Al’s being “on the east side of the ‘tee’ where U.S. 98 came into U.S. 441/State Road 80. He had beer and some food.”

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg May 16, 2013 at 9:52 am.

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The Eighth Wonder of the World: Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railroad

On Jan. 22, 1912, Henry Flagler arrived in Key West on his over-sea railroad. Skeptics had ridiculed Flagler’s idea of bringing the railroad to Key West as “Flagler’s Folly,” but when it became a reality, the newspapers hailed it as the eighth wonder of the world.


The documentary The Eighth Wonder of the World – Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railroad premieres on The Education Network of the School District of Palm Beach County on Comcast Channel 234 on Sunday, March 4, 2012, at 12:00 noon and 8:00 p.m. It’s also available on The Education Network website, and you can view it right here on HistoricPalmBeach.com. Other historic videos produced by The Education Network are available on our Historic Videos page.

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Posted in Flashback blog March 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm.

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In 1912 ‘Flagler’s Folly’ became ‘eighth wonder of the world’

This week marks the 100th anniversary of Henry Flagler’s railroad to Key West. While it operated far from Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, its builder is part of the fabric of this region.

The Flagler Museum recently wrapped up its exhibition, “First Train to Paradise: The Railroad That Went to Sea.”

Here’s something we wrote in 1994, on the centennial of the opening of his first Palm Beach hotel, the Royal Poinciana:

Henry Flagler had one last accomplishment in mind: the monumental task of building a 128-mile-long oversea railroad to link the mainland with Key West.

The railroad cost Flagler $20 million, two-fifths of his total Florida investment. Detractors called it “Flagler’s Folly.’’

But in 1912, after seven years of work by 3,000 to 4,000 men, the railroad had come to Key West.

While The Miami Herald would call it the eighth wonder of the world, critics who said it never would pay for itself were proven right. The wonder would last less than a quarter century before it was demolished by the 1935 “Labor Day” storm and replaced by the Overseas Highway.

But on that glorious day in January 1912, a stooped and weak Flagler made a triumphant entrance to a frenzied Key West, where he was overcome by the import of the moment.


A dapper, though weakened, Henry Flagler walks triumphantly off his train when it arrives for the first time in Key West in 1912. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection)

While his friend John Rockefeller was trying to make it to age 100 up in Ormond Beach — he failed by three years in 1937 — Flagler also was falling victim to age. He could barely see or hear. He had become introspective and lonely and would be seen sitting silently.

A year later, in January 1913, while entering a bathroom around the side from Whitehall’s lobby stairway, he fell down three steps to the landing below, breaking his hip. He later would slip into a coma. His son Harry, estranged from his father since 1894, rushed to his side, but it was too late: Flagler did not recognize him.

Flagler died May 20, 1913, at 83 in a cottage next to The Breakers.


Artists from the Art Guild of the Purple Isles and Island Christian School put the finishing touches on a 60-foot-wide outdoor mural last month in Key Largo. The mural, at mile marker 95, depicts Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. The artwork was created for the Jan. 22 centennial anniversary of the completion of the ‘railroad that went to sea.’ Though The Miami Herald called it the eighth wonder of the world, it remained in operation only until September 1935, less than a quarter of a century. (AP/Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg January 12, 2012 at 10:13 am.

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This week in history: West Palm Beach buys water plant

On Nov. 30, 1955, the city of West Palm Beach sold a water bond issue to purchase the West Palm Beach Water Co. and its 17,000 acres of land for $8.5 million from the Henry Flagler estate. Flagler built the water plant at Clear Lake in 1894 when just a few hundred people lived in the area. By 1955 the water company served 15,700 households and businesses in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, and it currently provides water to 51,000 customers. Read more about the current state of the water facility here.


1919 “Map of the Property of the West Palm Beach Water Co.”

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Posted in Flashback blog November 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm.

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This week in history: Flagler Memorial Bridge opens

The Flagler Memorial Bridge, the northernmost of the three bridges between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, opened on July 1, 1938. The first bridge at the site opened in 1901, replacing the earlier railroad spur that was four blocks to the south. Henry Flagler’s wife, Mary Lily, wanted the train and its noise farther away from their Whitehall home. The 1938 bridge still stands, the oldest movable bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway from North Miami to Cape Canaveral. It is scheduled to be replaced later this year.

flaglerbridge1938
The Nov. 20, 1938 “mail-away issue” of The Palm Beach Post (a season preview for winter visitors) featured an aerial view of the new Flagler Memorial Bridge with this caption:

Exceptional view of West Palm Beach’s imposing skyline — An unusual picture of the city looking across the roof of the Palm Beach Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach, with the downtown district in panoramic display to the left of the new Flagler Memorial Bridge, dedicated early in the summer by Senators Pepper and Andrews. The bridge links the two resort cities. Beyond the town in the distance may be seen Clear Lake, source of fresh water for the Palm Beaches, while stretching in the distance beyond the lake lies a section of the back-country. The broad, sweeping curves of the lake’s edge shelters Flagler Drive, a tree-lined thoroughfare skirting the lake’s edge for blocks in either direction. Jutting out from the shore-line on the far side of Lake Worth may be seen the city’s dock system, a stopping place for palatial yachts and charter boats during the season about to open.”

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Posted in Flashback blog June 27, 2011 at 6:00 am.

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